I’ll get to the bands, but the first thing anyone noticed, surely, is the freak scene outside the gates of Outside Lands. It’s what you’d envision concerts in the park to be like back when concerts in the park were free. In the short walk between parking my bike (thanks, SF Bike Coalition) and the main entry, I was offered $2 beers from a stack of 12-packs piled on a skateboard, $1 pot cookies from a brown grocery bag, yelled at by a woman for no reason who shouted “KEEP LAUGHING! THIS STAND-UP COMEDY ACT AIN’T FREE!,” warned to get out of the way while security caught and escorted out an unsucessful gate-crasher, watched in amazement at a sprinting, successful gate-crasher, and had to tell a guy no, but thanks, I’d rather you not super-soak my arm.
Then it’s over the hill and into the festival, with corporate booths (“Free Rolling Stone T-Shirts!”; no takers), even more corporate tents (the “Chase Freedom Lounge,” yeah right, like anyone thinks a credit card gives you freedom) and no free water except from the lovely people staffing the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic’s Rock Med table. I’ll say it until the day I die: All festivals should have a free drinking fountain. At least a garden hose, man.
The night before, I’d DJed this really ridiculously epic wedding reception at the Union Hotel in Occidental, and the exact feeling that festivals aim to provide—Everyone United Through Music!™—was undeniable in a tiny little redwood-lined ballroom. It was fun, but honestly, I don’t know that Everyone United Through Music!™ is such a desirable goal, because the more people united in their excitement over a band, the greater the chances of that band being pretty lame and middle-of-the-road. On a semi-related note, there’s no way around the fact that this year’s Outside Lands lineup is the weakest yet.
Mayer Hawthorne killed it. I’ve got a weariness of the oversaturated retro-soul train perennially chugging out of the same station for the last ten years, but there’s no denying Hawthorne’s enthusiasm. The crowd was in the palm of his hands—he stopped, held up one finger, they cheered; he shook the hell out of his tambourine, they cheered; he got everyone to imitate rain with their fingers, they cheered. Impeccably dressed in a custom suit, Hawthorne had a great band with vintage analog gear, synchronized backup dancers and three-part backing harmonies.
“I love records, I’m a vinyl junkie,” Hawthorne said at one point. “Y’all got one of the best record stores in the universe here—Amoeba.” He’s right! He then related a funny story about being mistaken by an autograph seeker, in the aisles at Amoeba, for Michael Bublé. Who knows if the story was really true, but you can kind of see the resemblance.
The Devil Makes Three are great, and always have been great, and it’s nice to see them finally selling out shows and getting props. Theirs is an instructional story for bands on taking the very slow, hardworking path, which is also a story about taking the very broke, no-money-havin’ path. I’d heard from a friend who saw their packed show at the Independent a couple nights before that they’d gotten “loose” and “noodley,” which actually sounded cool, but at Outside Lands no loose noodles answered the roll-call.
They opened with “For Good Again,” a sardonic story about communal living and starting a band, and there are some lines in that song which define the Devil Makes Three for me: “Everybody who’s anybody, in my opinion,” sings Pete Bernhard, “at one time lived in somebody’s hallway.” Lines like that are comfort food for punkhouse graduates, and even though I technically never lived in a hallway, I thought about my days living in the laundry room, or the attic, or the garage, or the closet, or the unfinished frame house, and felt a little better about myself. Thanks, Pete.
Then I saw a man with his shirt wide open. He had two bellybuttons. No kidding.
So like I said, there’s a lot of corporate tents at Outside Lands. In these tents, there’s DJs, or free wi-fi, or short performances in intimate settings by bands who are playing the larger stages. The only thing is that to get into these tents, you have to own a certain kind of credit card, or “like” a stupid brand on Facebook, or sign up for spam email, or utter a cringe-worthy phrase like “Let’s go to ‘Inspire’ by Heineken.” (Also, what the hell were those plastic stove knob things that Chase was handing out? Does anyone know? For real. I saw them all over the ground 20 feet after the dude was handing them out. No one knew what they were. Total sense this made = 0.)
That said, KUSF is a kickass radio station. Their Outside Lands tent was open to everyone, free of irritating marketing, and when I walked by the Budos Band was rocking a tiny stage. The bassist played his bass in this ridiculous upside-down fashion, and the bari sax player looked possessed at times. A little bit Mulatu, a little bit Fela, all Daptone, really tight grooves, and a nice surprise on the way to Janelle Monáe. It was great!
(Note to KUSF: I just wanna say that by NOT making me sign up for anything to chill in your tent, you have earned my loyalty and respect. See how it works in the 21st Century? There’s no jobs out there because no companies are making any money, so companies pump up their marketing team until everyone’s so nauseatingly sick from the onslaught of marketing that only a complete lack of marketing achieves the desired result of the public subconscious reacting positively to your brand, but I digress. The Budos Band is cool as shit and KUSF is wonderful.)
Janelle Monáe wins the showmanship prize of the year based on her Outside Lands set alone, and to think she does it night after night after night is unreal. Even her soundman was rocking out—like, hard—and he’s someone who watches this happen every night, over and over. Janelle Monáe! Whose brain works as fast as hers? Whose body works fast enough to receive lightning-fast impulses from said brain? Who can sing, rap dance in just one show? (Kangol, Mr. Sophisticata, but I digress yet again.)
Monáe was fifteen minutes late due to a late flight, a fact that no one’s going to remember because her set ruled. She took to the stage in a black hooded cape, sang the hell out of her songs, danced up a tornado and laid forth a watertight case for stardom. When “Tightrope” first hit, I couldn’t shake Monáe’s very formal, clean presentation. There was something eerily obedient in her manner, as if her talent had been refined and polished beyond normal human behavior. But contrary to the unwritten code of alleged musical “purity,” talent doesn’t have to sloppy to be authentic, and trained singers can also be great singers. Seeing Monáe live reinforces these concepts.
I had been staring at the stage, covered in instrument cables, wondering if Monáe might accidentally step on one and slip while dancing. Alas, she’s got this problem solved by putting a special dance riser in front of the drums, which also meant that people way in the back could see Monáe’s dizzying footwork. She turned in a memorable set, to say the least, including Chaplin’s “Smile,” probably the greatest song about depression ever written. When she ended with “Tightrope,” I walked around the crowd and came upon a dude who was doing backflips and smoking a joint at the same time. Amazing.
Al Green was on his game.
I last saw Al Green in Sonoma, turning in a smooth, by-the-numbers show for middle-aged wine drinkers. It was great, but man, it was so refreshing to see the guy in front of thousands of kids in tight jeans and neon Ray-Bans. Especially when there’s a lot of retro-soul acts here today—Janelle Monáe, Mayer Hawthorne, the Budos Band—it’s nice to have Al Green arrive to show them how it’s done.
In a routine that’s familiar by now, he took the stage, throwing out dozens of roses and repeatedly saying “I love you.” It may be routine, but when Green does it, it doesn’t feel like schtick. He implored the crowd to sing along. He shouted out California. He wished for stairs leading down into the crowd and made fun of the “paparazzi” in the photo pit. He genuinely wanted to make a connection with people. I’d say he succeeded.
There are things you forgive Al Green. Taking a swig of Gatorade partway through the second verse of “Let’s Stay Together” is one of them. (The chorus, which everyone knows by heart and sings loudly, would be a much more appropriate spot to take a break.) Performing snippets of “I Can’t Help Myself,” “Bring It on Home to Me” and “My Girl” instead of his own songs is another. Why? Because his history, which is weighty in itself, is matched by his current-day pipes and patter. Wailing gospel high notes, hip-bumping to the downbeat, blowing kisses to the ladies—just owning it.
Afterwards, from the direction of Speedway Meadow, we saw a swarm of bodies who for some reason chose to watch Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes instead of Al Green, and I usually don’t pity people for following their internal compass, but man.
Garage a Trois. Last song. “1969” by the Stooges. The vibraphone player, Mike Dillon, reached over for a mic and bumped some percussion, which toppled to the floor. A sound guy approached, like he was going to reprimand the guy. Dillon saw him coming and executed a flying, head-first leap over the vibes, crashing to the ground and knocking over more stuff. He got up and dry-humped Skerik, the saxophone player. Then he kicked Skerik in the head. Noticing the mic had come unplugged, he threw it up in the air and into the crowd. It was nuts.
When the song was over, the soundmen looked relieved.
Once upon a time there was a band called Chromeo. The best moment of Chromeo’s set came when a ton of people outside the festival banded together on JFK drive and crashed through the fence. A cheer emitted from the crowd when dozens of people made it in without paying. (Watch the video here.) If you lived through the 1980s you’ve heard Chromeo before. The end.
Painfully apparent when Phoenix kicked off with “Lizstomania” was that Thomas Mars was singing along to a doubled backing track. Ouch! Except everyone was going so nuts they probably didn’t notice. The coolly detached Mars hopped into the crowd, whipping people into even further of a frenzy. I wonder what the poll results would be if each fan at the gates was asked if Phoenix should be headlining instead of Kings of Leon.
Nas: Yankees hat. Damian Marley: Dreads down to the floor. Hype man: Waving a Lion of Judah flag. Backing band: Solid. Backup singer: Wearing a Bob Marley T-Shirt. Work it, baby!
Damian Marley shouted something about legal marijuana, and the field went nuts. I missed it, but according to the East Bay Express, Nas at one point called Africa a “country.”
“I’m lookin’ out in this crowd,” declared Mike Ness, in that oh-so-Mike-Ness way (see: Live at the Roxy), “and I’m seein’ some scary lookin’ criminals… If any of you out there are considering a life of crime, I seriously discourage it!” Sure thing, Mike.
Zen moments come at unexpected times. Social Distortion playing “Ring of Fire” was one of them. Why did it move me? What about it was special that wasn’t, the dozens of other times I’ve heard it? I can’t say. Especially when Mike Ness gave it this strange introduction about Johnny Cash: “This was written by one of my heroes! He’s not a hero because he had great hair or wore all black, but because there was a time in this country where people thought good white music could exist without black music! I tell ya, without this guy we’d all be sittin’ on the front porch blowing into a jug tryin’ to make a tune!”
I’d never seen Social Distortion. When I was 13 and didn’t know anything about music I’d go to the Wherehouse in the mall and look at the cassette tapes, selecting my purchase based entirely on the names of the bands. This is how I wound up with Killer Klowns From Outer Space by the Dickies, Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death by the Dead Kennedys, and Prison Bound by Social Distortion. I thought Social Distortion was a raw name, and was kind of bummed when I got home to find it was basically country music instead of thrash.
Kings of Leon were up next, but so was RVIVR across town at Thee Parkside. I guarantee you that a thousand birds could shit on RVIVR’s heads and they’d keep playing. You can’t say the same for Kings of Leon, so I hopped on my bike and rode back to my car at Ocean Beach. I love this part of Golden Gate Park. It’s downhill all the way, past the buffalo and the casting pools and the archery field, and out on the Great Highway the sun and the fog and the water made a beautiful canvas behind that huge wooden windmill.
More Photos Below.
Let's Guess the 2010 Outside Lands Lineup: Phoenix, My Morning Jacket, Furthur, Al Green, Social Distortion, The Strokes, Levon Helm, Bassnectar, Cat Power, more
I just noticed that the Outside Lands Twitter page has been dropping hints all day about the lineup for the 2010 Outside Lands festival this year, running August 14-15 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
It’s essentially an early lineup announcement—the clues aren’t that hard. Let’s figure them out.
1. Louisville, KY: “Ranger Dave’s winter hibernation is now over.”
Obviously My Morning Jacket, who were inactive all this past winter. Plus, not too many other festival-type bands from Louisville.
2. Fort Collins, CO: “Ranger Dave will be serving white russians.”
I’m thinking this is Devotchka, from Colorado with a Russian name. Update: The clue for Fort Collins is actually “Ranger Dave loves feasting on big city burritos in the town where the rams roam.” Big City Burritos and the CSU Rams are in Fort Collins, and so is Pretty Lights.
3. Woodstock, NY: “Ranger Dave loves hanging in Woodstock, NY around midnight.”
It’s gotta be Levon Helm. He holds infamous “Midnight Rambles” at his studio in Woodstock, and his tour itinerary shows him playing in L.A. on Aug. 15.
4. Los Angeles, CA: “Ranger Dave used to be a robot.”
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. (Alex Ebert used to sing for Ima Robot.)
5. Fullerton, CA: “Ranger Dave loves his Southern California punk rock from Fullerton.”
You can’t say Fullerton punk rock without saying Social Distortion.
6. Montreal, Canada: “Ranger Dave is part Arab, part Jewish and a little French Canadian.”
Chromeo, without a doubt.
7. San Francisco, CA: “Ranger Dave worships this infamous Black Rock DJ.”
Bassnectar, I’m sure, who’s a staple at Burning Man in the Black Rock desert.
8. New Orleans, LA: “Ranger Dave digs brass bands from Treme.”
The television show or the actual neighborhood? Either way, it’s probably the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, since their tour itinerary puts them in Los Angeles on Aug. 18.
9. Versailles, France: “Ranger Dave is wondering what Glendale, Mesa, Tempe and Scottsdale have in common.”
Phoenix, which will make lots of people stoked.
10. Santa Cruz, CA: “Ranger Dave likes his grass from Santa Cruz via Vermont.”
Definitely the Devil Makes Three, a bluegrass trio from SC by way of Vermont.
So there you go. I think it’s interesting the festival is condensing down to just two days this year—not enough big-name headliners, possibly? Realize in years past they’ve had mainstream staples like Radiohead, Tom Petty, Pearl Jam, Black Eyed Peas and Dave Matthews, and this tiny trickle of a lineup seems meager, Billboard-wise. It’s just a trickle, though—it’s not to say they won’t bring out bigger names when they announce the full lineup June 1.
But everyone knows it’s the smaller-stage bands that really make this festival. I’m rooting for Superchunk, who only leave their hometown these days for large festivals. Everyone else besides me seems to want Faith No More.
Two-day tickets are on sale for $115, plus the usual service gouges, here. (“Sold Out,” which only means they’re temporarily off sale for a while. Golden Gate Park is huge, so don’t get too worked up about it.)
UPDATE: More clues just in!
11. Memphis, TN: “Ranger Dave is the reverend of love with single stem roses for the ladies.”
Easy—that’s Al Green.
12. Newmarket, Ontario: “Ranger Dave is in a Japanese fraternal order with Steve Guttenberg.”
That’s gotta be Tokyo Police Club. (Steve Guttenberg starred in the Police Academy movies.)
13. Niafunke, Mali: “Ranger Dave has to travel to Mali to find the blues.”
This could be any number of people, but it’s Vieux Farka Toure, Ali Farka Toure’s son, who lists the Outside Lands date on his website.
14. Warri, Nigeria: “Ranger Dave will then backpack to Nigeria on his way to Germany to cleanse his soul.”
Most likely Nneka, from Warri, whose mother is German.
15. Melbourne, Australia: “Ranger Dave raises dionaea muscipula with bad attitudes.”
That’s gotta be the Temper Trap.
Also, in early March, Kings of Leon sent out tour dates to fans that included Outside Lands. Whoops! So Kings of Leon is probably a safe bet—they have the date open on their tour itinerary. Weirdly, they’re going to be in San Diego, Irvine and Los Angeles in July, but they conspicuously aren’t playing Northern California. Most likely because Outside Lands has them for August.
UPDATE: Even more clues.
16. Los Angeles, CA: “Ranger Dave is getting frisky. He’s scared of the ghosts on the roof.”
There’s five zillion bands in L.A. and this clue is so vague, I can’t wager a guess.
17. New York City: “Ranger Dave has smuggled Ukrainian books through Staten Island.”
If this is not Gogol Bordello I will eat my hat.
18. New Orleans, LA: “Ranger Dave is floating on the other sea.”
??? Again, large field, bad aim. Galactic? Allen Toussaint? Zzzzzzz.
19. Kansas City, KS: “Ranger Dave is a fan of this French impressionist painter.”
Most likely Janelle Monae.
20. “Ranger Dave is a friend of felines big and small.”
As Tall as Lions?
21. “Simon says Ranger Dave is cruising on the Pacific Coast Highway in West LA county.”
Hmm… “Pacific Coast Highway” is the current single by Hole?
Relix Magazine published a lineup including Black Star and the Gossip this week.
And another big whoops: Rolling Stone just leaked Furthur as a headliner.
UPDATE, JUNE 1: Well, that was fun. Here’s the official press-release lineup:
Kings of Leon (Sunday Headliners)
Furthur featuring Phil Lesh & Bob Weir (Saturday Headliners)
My Morning Jacket
Nas & Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley
The Levon Helm Band
Empire of the Sun
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
The Temper Trap
The Devil Makes Three
Tokyo Police Club
Rebirth Brass Band
Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars
Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub
The Budos Band
Garage A Trois feat. Stanton Moore, Marco Benevento, Skerik & Mike Dillon
Mayer Hawthorne & The County
The Pimps of Joytime
People Under the Stairs
Vieux Farke Touré
The Soft Pack
“More acts will be announced soon,” says Mr. Press Release. Two-Day tickets go on sale June 2 at 10am PST and Single-Day tickets go on sale Sunday, June 6 at 10am PST via the Outside Lands site.
“There’s people wonderin’,” said an unstoppable Al Green on stage in Sonoma last night, “if the Reverend Al’s still got it!”
And then, to answer his own hypothesis, in the high falsetto that’s conceived thousands of babies and still melts ladies’ hearts:
With an 11-piece band, a hailstorm of energy and verve and most importantly, a voice that’s still pure quicksilver, Al Green at that point had already proved to the Sonoma crowd that he’s definitely still got it. The exchange existed, rather, as part of an extended love-fest with the audience—showy but unscripted—that started with his passing out roses to the ladies in the front row and continued in rambunctious call-and-response fashion like the Baptist masses that Green conducts most Sundays to the public at his church outside of Memphis.
“I love you,” he said. “I love you. I love you. I love Sonoma.” Then again, singing: “I love Sonoma. I’m gonna make my own song. I looove Sonoommaa. I looove Sonoomm“—the falsetto kicked in—”AAAAAAAAAHHHH!”
The feeling, to say the least, was mutual. “Let’s Stay Together” inspired a bumrush to the stage, putting security in a tizzy, and “Here I Am” caused massive spillover outside of the too-small cordoned dance areas down the side of the festival’s gargantuan tent. During “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart,” Green held the congregation spellbound in a masterful, heart-wrenching torpor; that one song alone boosted last night’s lovemaking in Sonoma County by 20 percent.
During Green’s high-energy, 50-minute set, there were only a few clunky moments. Green barreled through an unnecessary medley of classic soul hits—”I Can’t Help Myself,” “My Girl,” “Bring it on Home to Me,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “The Dock of the Bay,” “Wonderful World”—which would have been much better had he picked one and sang it in its entirety (I nominate “Bring it on Home to Me.”) This led into a lacking “Tired of Being Alone” featuring Green singing pieces of the song but mostly playing with the crowd while his 11-piece band vamped in the background, and after an extended “Love and Happiness” closed the set, Green’s backup singer lamely ran down a Wikipedia entry of his achievements: “Al Green, ladies and gentlemen! Member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! Member of the Soul Hall of Fame! Member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame!”
In the overall picture, however, these details will have to accept their status as minor gripes, fully overshadowed by Green’s talent, personality, legend, and desire to give all that he is to his audience. “The lady back there that’s the head of this whole thing made me promise to keep my little ‘A’ on the stage,” he said at one point, clearly delighted with himself as he walked like a disobedient child down the front steps to his adoring crowd, “and here I am. . . on my way down again!” And then the falsetto, again, directly into the eyes of a sea of swooning females.
Yes. Al Green has still got it.